Tuesday, 28 December 2010

How I Became a Poet

Roger Stevens

I am often asked how I started writing and why I became a poet.
It all started when I was a teenager. I was on my way to a football training academy in London. The bus was quite crowded. Another lad, a bit younger than me, sat next to me and we got chatting.
He had a little notebook with him and he said it was where he wrote down ideas for stories and poems. He was on his way to see a publisher friend of his dad’s. One day, he said, he was going to be a poet. He read me some of his poems and, to be honest, they weren’t very good. So I showed him where he was going wrong and helped him with a couple of rhymes. But I could see his heart wasn’t in it.
Then he asked me about playing football. My dad, my grandad and my great grandad had all been well-known and very good, footballers. And everyone thought I would be the same. And I did enjoy playing – but I knew I wasn’t really very good. I much preferred writing stories and poems. I thought this lad was lucky to be seeing a publisher.
“Do you play football?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said, “but I don’t think I’m good enough to play in a team.”
At that moment the bus jerked to an unexpected halt and my football, which was jammed in the top of my sports bag, came loose and spun into the air.
The lad sprang to his feet, caught the ball on his knee, knocked it back into the air on to his head, where he bounced it seven or eight times, back to his knee, then kicked it. The ball flew the length of the bus, over the startled passengers' heads, and landed in the little luggage compartment at the front. Bulls-eye!
Then I had my brilliant idea.
Tell you what,” I said, “ How about I become the poet and go and see your dad’s publisher friend, and you take my place and go to the football academy trials?"
He thought about it for a moment, grinned, and said, “Yes! What a brilliant idea!” So that’s what we did.
And that’s how I first met David Beckham.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Six Poems For Christmas

Something Going On
Bernard Young
When there's a big cake in the kitchen
When there's holly in the hall
When there's tinsel round the telly
And presents wall to wall 
When there's mistletoe and ivy
And a decorated tree
I know something's going on
You can't fool me

Liz Brownlee
so cold
the robin’s song
rings in the air

Gobble Gobble
Celia Warren
A turkey once lived on a farm
Where he thought he would come to no harm
Till the farmer then said,
“Turkey, off with your head!”
“Well, I'm stuffed!” cried the bird in alarm


Liz Brownlee
December snow
a blue tit pecks through icing
on an apple

In Bethlehem
Jan Dean
The sky shivers silver
and angels sing.
The stars dazzle-dance
while seraphs swoop
on shining wings.
All this for a baby
born this night.
All this for that baby -
the king of light.

Star Worms

Roger Stevens
At Christmas we play charades
Granny puts up three fingers and says, Six syllables
And we say, That’s three
She points at her nose, pulls her ear and goes boss-eyed
Jumps up and down
Does a wavy thing with her arms that looks like she’s praying, or swimming
And we try to guess
And she says,
Star Worms

All poems © the authors

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

From Scribbles to Poetry

Celia Warren

"When did you start writing poems and stories?" is a question children often ask me. It is so long ago I can hardly remember, but I do know I scribbled letters on the bottom of my pull-along truck of bricks, long before I could read. I must have been copying my older brother and sister, I think.

Now, when a grown-up says to me, "I'd like to be a writer one day", I feel slightly bemused. A writer is not something you decide to be - today, 'one day', or ever; it's what you do. It's what you can't stop yourself doing. It's what I've been doing since I could hold a pencil. So, if you want to be a writer 'one day' - get off this website and go and start writing. NOW! There's no time to waste. (You can come back and read the rest later, if you like.)

At about the age of seven, I started producing a weekly magazine for my parents and brother and sister to read. It was called 'Morning Magazine', and I rarely missed a week for - um - about six or seven years! (In the school holidays, there would sometimes be two editions in one week!) I filled it with my own poems, favourite poems by published poets, my own stories, articles and drawings - even advertisements. I sold it for 0d (that's 0p in new money!), so never got rich. My magazine even ran competitions that my family entered. Best entrants won 'a people scene' or 'a page of people' drawn by Celia. (I loved drawing, too, and people were my favourite subject.) Now I am a professional writer and I still love being creative. There's nothing better than baking a cake, planting seeds, painting a picture or writing a poem. Being creative is like breathing: essential to a healthy, happy life.

Writing poetry is my favourite creative occupation. And I enjoy reading others' poems, too. Some of my favourite poets when I was a child were Walter de la Mare, Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Causley. Once somebody, who had read lots of my poems, asked me if I liked de la Mare and Causley. "Yes, very much," I admitted, "but how did you know?" "It shows in your writing," he said. I was surprised but flattered that my writing had been influenced by the work of such masterly poets. That's why I think it is important, if you are serious about writing as a career, that you read lots, too. It doesn't mean that you will set out to copy others' styles or ideas, but their lyrical qualities, rhythms and style may rub off on you, without your knowing it, and improve your own writing. Eventually, you will develop your own confident voice. I wonder if anyone will read your work and recognise your influences?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Diary of a Poet

Sue Hardy-Dawson

On Tuesday I spent the morning looking at a fir cone. It’s very hard being a poet, you need vast supplies of tea, cakes and paper all laid out at arm's reach just in case moving disturbs something and you lose your muse. Well that’s what I tell everyone…
Anyway, unfortunately I couldn’t find anything interesting to write about fir cones, although as it turned out I did think it would be funny if they were called fur cones because they were actually like small furry ice creams - maybe an idea for later.
Then all at once I saw a sparrow having a bath in a puddle. It was a very sparkly puddle and the last rays of sunlight reflected the sparrow's silhouette.
Ah! I thought, so beautifully poetic. And so I picked up my special pen and scribbled upside down. It was frantic scribbling with no spelling or punctuation, the best kind for hunting ideas for poems.
Sadly as usual there were a few blots and yes, some had, rather artistically I thought, transferred themselves to my nose. This meant my children were very cross when I picked them up from school (there’s just no pleasing some people). After I’d dried the spilt tea and the cat on the radiator I rushed over excitedly to read through my ideas. There was a picture of a sparrow and a smiley sun. But after all that I discovered I’d written a poem about a snake!  The brain is a messy place, well mine is, and so you never know what will pop out.
It may all sound a bit mad but catching ideas before you lose them is difficult. You do have to scribble them down before deciding if they are any good or not. We all have lots of thoughts every day. From things like "I’m thirsty" and "I must clean up" to, well, finding a host of golden daffodils. Things don’t have to be unusual or special to become poems. It’s how the poet sees and writes about them that makes them special.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Say it Out Loud

Jan Dean

For me, part of writing a poem is saying it out loud. You have to discover what the rhythms of the words are doing and find out where you want short and maybe longer pauses.
Sometimes you discover that the phrase you’ve written is particularly fun to say – or particularly awkward. If it’s fun I might consider repeating it or using it as a chorus. Or I might see if I can change other lines to make them more fun to say too.
If it’s awkward, then I’ll rework that bit of the poem – unless I’m writing about awkwardness, in which case I’ll have managed to write about awkwardness in an awkward kind of way and I’ll be really pleased.
When I read my drafts out loud I try to say the words for all they’re worth. I exaggerate the bounces and dips, I think about whether the words seem to want to go fast or slowly. This is about discovering the music the words make and it matters a great deal. The sound the words make is like the background music to the sense they make. You don’t want a sad meaning with a jolly bouncy speeded-up soundtrack, or a happy poem that sounds like a miserable snail crawling over a damp brick.
I do this with all my poems. I perform them as part of the writing process. I’m usually on my own in the house so I can be as daft as I like – but I have been known to tap out rhythms and mutter them under my breath on the train. Maybe that’s why hardly anyone ever comes to sit next to me…

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Keeping a Notebook

Welcome to the first entry in this new blog. It’s all very exciting. And it reminds me of starting a brand new notebook. I’m always a little bit nervous, a little bit scared – and a little bit hesitant – when I start a fresh notebook. I wonder how it will turn out. Will it be full of fantastic poems or full of rubbish? By the time the notebook’s finished it is usually a mixture of both. Because a notebook is where you write down ideas, things you’ve seen and things you’ve heard. If you’re a poet or a writer you are always looking and listening, just in case you hear something that might one day be a poem or a story. And some of your jottings and doodles will become something special and some, quite naturally, won’t.

And this blog is hopefully going to be a bit like a notebook. We have six famous children’s poets – all waiting to discuss things, write about their favourite poets, give you ideas for writing poems and… well… all sorts of things. And we hope it’s going to be fantastic.

So please comment on all our posts. This blog is for you. Tell us what you’d like to read about or talk about. And tell us about your notebook. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.